Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mark Of The Man-Wolf!

In September of 1973 in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, it's been just over a week since Gwen Stacy's death--and though Peter Parker has made it through those first few days of grief, Spider-Man hasn't caught much of a break, with the Daily Bugle's J. Jonah Jameson hiring Luke Cage to bring him in. Nor has the fallout from the media let up on him, especially with Jameson stirring things up on that front, as well:

But if there's any accuracy to the cover of issue #124, Jameson is headed for some serious payback--both from Spider-Man, and from the claws of the Man-Wolf, who makes his first Marvel appearance here. The mystery of the Man-Wolf will unfold as we go along, at least for those of you unfamiliar with the character. For those who are, a great deal of this two-part "thriller" (as writer Gerry Conway calls it) may seem unnecessary to you, since you've already skipped to the ending, as it were; in fact, you're probably asking yourself why the Man-Wolf would rate a two-part story in the first place. Spider-Man had already battled a werewolf in the pages of Marvel Team-Up--and, boiled down, this creature is simply a werewolf with a twist or two added to set him apart from, er, the pack. But if you put yourself in the place of a new reader, you'll find the story reasonably laid out in terms of raising the questions about this creature--and watching the pieces slowly fall into place for the various characters involved, as in any good horror story, can be its own entertainment.

Conway's first hurdle, of course, would seem to be: How do you put a fresh spin on a werewolf story? He starts with the werewolf himself, by making him something out of the ordinary (ordinary for standard werewolf lore, that is). In this case, we get a sense that something is not right with John Jameson, the son of our irascible Bugle publisher, who's now a retired astronaut and engaged to be married. It's an excellent choice for Conway. John has always been the upstanding, heroic son to Jameson who could do no wrong, and his appearances in Spider-Man have been related in one way or another to his job as an astronaut. This story will continue those associations--and even though he's no longer in astronautics, his former profession will play a part in the direction Conway wants to lead him.

And on that note, it seems this former moonwalker is discovering that the moon is now visiting him.

As for Peter, Conway is still reminding us that recovering from the death of a loved one is a gradual process--and it's gratifying to see the roller-coaster emotions one goes through in that respect aren't being neglected in the one Marvel character who wears his heart on his sleeve better than most. For instance, as Peter struggles to work his way back into his day-to-day life, he can't help but feel that people are walking on egg shells around him.

Even more than in the previous issue, we're seeing that it's still too soon for Peter to just pick up where he left off. Though his friends beg to differ--with Mary Jane, for instance, wondering how long he's going to keep up this "ostrich act." Mary Jane, at this stage of her development, still has a ways to go in leaving behind her "nothing phases me" persona and being a more relatable friend to Peter and others, and Peter understandably can't find the patience right now to indulge anyone who seeks to snap him out of a grieving process that hasn't yet run its course.

Meanwhile, that conspicuous little bauble around John Jameson's neck is still nagging at us a little, isn't it? So we can't exactly claim surprise when we're treated to a startling transformation:

Conway hasn't yet identified this creature as Jameson, restricting references to it as "the beast," "it," and of course "the Man-Wolf." He likely knows that the cat--er, wolf has already been let out of the bag--but there's drama yet to come that requires at least the semblance of mystery, mostly having to do with the one the Man-Wolf hunts:

But if Conway intends to hold true to the issue cover's impression, Spider-Man needs to be a part of this confrontation, doesn't he? Yet, returning to Peter at this moment, Conway seems to be making the point that you can't just switch off grief for the sake of a story. As we've seen, Peter is nowhere near snapping out of his funk--but, thanks to Jonah Jameson himself, he's certainly ready to snap:

That crack about the webbing comes across a little oddly. What exactly is it supposed to imply? Painful restraint? Torture? Suffocation? I'm not quite sure what Conway is aiming for, other than generally trying to get across the extent to which Peter has been provoked.

At any rate, Conway has arranged for the interlude with Peter to coincide with the Man-Wolf's attack, and in a very sensible way that allows Peter to focus on the job at hand.

It still seems a little odd to me that Spider-Man has as much trouble with werewolves as he does, considering his strength, agility, and spider-sense. But despite all that, even man-wolves have to get lucky, I suppose--and if Spider-Man weren't taken out, Conway's revelation of the Man-Wolf's identity (to us, but more importantly to Jonah) wouldn't be as effective, since it really needs a moment of its own:

Equally as compelling, though, is the following scene with Jameson and Spider-Man, two people who have never seen eye-to-eye and aren't likely to. But in this instance, even Spider-Man is taken aback by Jameson's attitude regarding this incident:

Spider-Man, though, isn't out of the woods yet. And since this is a two-part story, Conway gives us a little old-fashioned stalking and imminent danger to take us out. But we also see that the fight has had an unexpected (and welcome) effect on Peter:

When this story concludes, we'll see a number of our questions answered. How did John Jameson become this creature? What's the story with that gem-collar he's wearing? How will Spider-Man interfere, given Jonah Jameson's stern warning--and how will Jameson be able to help his son? And finally, what good is having spider-sense, if it causes you to look away from a deadly threat pouncing on you from behind??

Amazing Spider-Man #124

Script: Gerry Conway
Pencils: Gil Kane
Inks: John Romita and Tony Mortellero
Letterer: Artie Simek


Anonymous said...

The Man-Wolf should have done everyone a favour and bitten J.Jonah Jameson's head off :)

david_b said...

My FIRST ASM issue, disappointingly in the final days of Romita.

Loved it, loved it, loved it.

I'm getting to meet Conway in Detroit next may (ComicCon), so bringin' my ASM 121 and 122 issues.

As for this story, what's of most interest to Spidey fans was the change-up of Pete's reaction to Norman's Gobby outfit removal.

Don't have the issues in front of me, but in ish 123 Peter ponders over his rationale for removing the Goblin outfit off Osborne, then in the next issue, he's wondering who removed it..., which of course leads up to Harry's entire subplot.

1973 was SUCH a great year.

david_b said...

Sorry, forgot to add..:

"1973 was SUCH a great year to enter the Marvel Universe..!!"

With the Avengers/Defenders Clash, Marvel Tales, MTU, ASM and CA&F, I dove into Marvel Zuvembism and never looked back.

Comicsfan said...

Actually, David, that was Harry himself who removed the Goblin's costume, in order to cast Norman as one of Spider-Man's victims and inflame public opinion against the web-slinger. (As Harry put it, "If I hadn't removed the Goblin's costume, all this would be over. Now it is only beginning--and the death of Spider-Man will be its end!") In the later issue, Peter seems unaware of the costume removal--to his mind, Norman Osborn would have been found by law enforcement still in costume, which should have put the matter to rest.

Colin, where Jonah Jameson is concerned, I think it might be a toss-up as to who would bite the other's head off first!

Anonymous said...

The mad, maniacal moon-beast men call Man-Wolf!!!
Seriously, I agree, '73 was a great year to get into Marvel Comics. I was five, and I could barely read, so everything had that much more mystery about it.
And I got hooked, too. I was always nagging my mother for more Marvel Comics. And my Ma, God bless her, she bought 'em for me.
A cool period for ASM.
Maybe not the classic Romita or Ditko days, but still one of the best mags around. mp

david_b said...

Actually Comicsfan, that line is almost verbatim of what Peter himself spoke in issue 123, which led to the confusion.

I'll have to pull out the actual issue, it was mentioned in the letters page since then. I wonder if reprints changed that.

Thanks much.

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